Friday, July 04, 2008

I Can’t Drive 55

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., has indicated that Congress may want to consider reimposing a national speed limit in an effort to curtail gasoline consumption. I have been expecting this. He has asked Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to look into what speed limit would provide the optimum gasoline efficiency. He has asked if the administration might support efforts in Congress to require a lower speed limit.

In 1974 in response to the Arab oil embargo Congress set a national 55 mph speed limit. The speed limit stayed in effect until 1995.

In about 1987 I went through a divorce and my ex-wife moved from Nashville to McKenzie, Tennessee, a distance of about 125 miles. She had custody of our five-year-old daughter but I had liberal visitation. I was determined I would not lose contact with my daughter so I continued to exercise my visitation despite the distance. For about the first year after her move out of town, when my daughter was six, I continued my every other week visitation and the every Wednesday night visitation. Later I reduced the Wednesday night visits to the alternate Wednesdays when I did not have weekend visitation. A couple years later I discontinued the Wednesday night visitations all together. I thought while she was young, that the regular continued contact was important. And, it was certainly important to me.

I had the greatest car I ever had during this period. It was a 1986 Pontiac 6000, Sports Touring Edition. It had a sunroof, a great stereo with controls on the steering wheel, rack and pinion steering (what ever that is) and something called “engineered ride control.” The shocks would pump up and adjust to how fast you were driving and the amount of weight you were carrying. The car seemed glued to the road and the steering was real responsive. I loved that car!

I bought the absolutely best radar detector money could by and I burned up the road. Every Wednesday I would leave work early, drive to McKenzie, visit my daughter and drive back. Riding the same route every Wednesday night, I got to know every bump in the road and I learned where the state troopers usually hid. I would crank up the radio, and make the trip and did not mind the drive at all. After a while, it seemed like the car drove itself. I would leave McKenzie and when I hit the interstate I went into an almost trance-like state. I would enjoy the music and in no time at all it seemed like I was home.

I routinely drove at about 85-90 MPH. Sometimes my speed would creep up to over 100. The radar detector kept me from getting numerous tickets but radar detectors are not fool-proof. I had some friends in high places at the time and I got a couple tickets “dismissed.” A couple times, highway patrolmen cut me a break and gave me a warning or wrote the ticket for a lower speed than I was really driving. After about the fourth ticket however and notice that one more ticket would cause me to lose my license, I slowed down. By that time, I was ready to discontinue the Wednesday night trips anyway.

I hated driving 55. I hated driving 75. If I would have obeyed the speed limit, I would not have been able to visit my daughter. In a good car, Interstate driving at 80 is not so bad; interstate driving at 55 is hard work.

A 55 MPH speed limit will bring back CB radios and disrespect for the law. Like Sammy Hager says, "I Can’t Drive 55!"

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  1. A 55mph speed limit is not necessary since people already have an incentive to slow down--to save gas.

    The other argument that pro-speed limit types like to throw out there is that it saves lives and they will point to declining highway deaths after the implementation of the 55 mph speed limit. What they miss is that highway deaths were declining BEFORE the 55 mph limit.

  2. The added labor costs to business paying for employees being on the road 28% longer is far above the savings in gas. That added expense will ultimately result in increased prices of all goods and services.
    55MPH will be very detrimental to the economy. Yes, many vehicles do get up to 27% better gas mileage at 55 MPH as compared to 75 MPH. However you are also driving 28% slower at 55 MPH. A 100 mile trip takes all most 30 minutes longer at 55MPH as compared to 75MPH.
    For the sake of discussion, let's use the following parameters for a 100 mile trip: A car that gets 25 MPG would get 31.75 MPG at 55 MPH (27%) - Gas at $4.00 per gallon - Employee labor cost of $15 per hour.
    Driving at 75MPH will take 80 minutes and cost a total of $36.00 in gas and labor costs
    ( use 4 gallons of gas at a cost of $16.00 and the labor cost would be $20 (1.3 hours x $15/hour))
    Driving at 55MPH will take over 109 minutes and cost a total of $39.87 in gas and labor costs
    ( use 3.15 gallons of gas at a cost of $12.60 and the labor cost would be $27.27 (1.8 hours x $15/hour))
    THAT’S AN 11% INCREASE IN COSTS BY SLOWING DOWN TO 55MPH. The burden labor rate for many service industries is actually $25 to $ 35 and more and therefore the problem is even worse.
    The saving lives argument has also be very exaggerated. The chances of being involved in an accident on the highway increase the longer you are actually exposed to the risk. In other words, if you are on the highway an additional 30 minutes per day, your exposure to potential risk has been increase 30 more minutes. Being on the road longer also greatly increases driver fatigue. Driving while sleepy is as dangerous as driving drunk.
    The claims that the National Highway death toll went down around 1974 due to the 55 MPH limit imposed after the 1973 Oil crisis has often been disputed. It has been suggested that this drop was actually due to new enforcement of seat belt laws and people driving less because of high gas prices.
    As a business owner of a service industry, the interference by the Federal Government to make me inefficient will cost me thousands of dollars. Those who want to drive at 55 are more than welcome to drive 55. Just don't make everyone else along with the economy slow down with you!

  3. David,
    Excellent post. A lot of great information.